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Doping as criminal offence: Seb Coe prefers sports bodies’ control

Coe also feels Bolt's loss will not dent the affable Jamaican's status as the greatest sprinter of all time.

PTI | London |

Amid calls to criminalise doping in some countries, including India, IAAF President Sebastian Coe on Wednesday said he prefers sports bodies to be in control of sanctioning athletes as taking matters to court would "complicate" things.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing World Athletics Championships, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) chief said tackling doping should remain the sole prerogative of sports bodies.

In order to tackle the menace, some countries (like Ethiopia, Austria, France and Italy) have passed legislations to make doping a criminal offence.

In India too, deliberations are underway to do the same.

"There is a discussion going on now. Some say it is better for sports itself to deal with doping cases instead of doing that by the courts. Sometimes sports can imposed sanctions that criminal courts cannot impose," Coe said.

"Then you have the discussion that 'does such a case go to courts first or to sports first?' If it goes to criminal courts first and a person serves a prison sentence, that may be for just three or four months. Whereas sports can imposes sanctions may be of four years and thus sports can deal with it in a tougher way.

"Personally I prefer sports to be in control of sanctioning athletes. Once you allow criminal courts to be involved, the case becomes very complicated," he added.

Turning to the ongoing World Championships, Coe said it was quite a shock for some to see Usain Bolt finish third in the 100m sprint even though he was not very surprised.

However, Coe feels it will not dent the affable Jamaican's status as the greatest sprinter of all time.

Justin Gatlin avenged his second place finish to Bolt in five successive World Championships and Olympics finals by clinching the gold in a dramatic race on Saturday but Coe said that result will have no bearing on the Jamaican bowing out as the greatest sprinter of all time.

"Everybody wanted him (Bolt) to end his career as a winner. But it is a small part of his history. He will look back and realise that it does not actually change anything about his status, who he is and how good his races have been and how much he has done for the sport of athletics," Coe said.

The Brit, on several occasions, has described Bolt as the greatest sprinter of all time, comparing the towering Jamaican to boxing legend Muhammad Ali for the impact he had beyond the sport.

"He (Bolt) is a showman and his remarks at the end of the race about the other athlete (Gatlin) was very generous," Coe added.

American Gatlin, who was twice suspended earlier for doping offences, was booed by the London crowd at the packed Olympic Stadium on Saturday last. Gatlin had later said later that Bolt told him he did not deserve to be booed.

Asked if he expects the London crowd to boo Gatlin again during the 4x100m relay race on August 12, Coe simply said, "I think the crowd would want to watch fantastic athletics. The relay will be very competitive."

The crowd at the stadium was stunned at the sight of Bolt being beaten in the 100m final not only by Gatlin but also by another American, Christian Coleman, who grabbed the silver.

"I was not surprised because athletics as a sport is not Hollywood movie. You never know the end. You do not know the end if you don't reach the end. If you opened the book and if you don't go to the last paragraph and see the line about who wins or lose, you don't know.

"I guess we have become so used to seeing Bolt win race after race in the Olympic Games and World Championships, in Diamond Leagues and breaking world records. So, it was a shock (for some) not to see him win. But I don't think anybody was thinking that it is impossible for him to lose," said the Briton.

Just hours after Bolt lost to Gatlin, Coe had said that the American would not have won the gold here had he been handed a lengthier "eight-year ban, which would have in essence been a life ban" for his second dope offence in 2006.

The new World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code does not have a provision for a life ban and the maximum sanction for a second dope offence is an eight-year ban. But Coe, who is helming the IAAF in the aftermath of a Russian doping scandal, maintained that the option of a life ban should not be abandoned.

"We have tried on a number of occasions and we are not the only sport to do this. The IOC has looked into this, other international federations and other sports have looked at it.

At the moment we have tried and failed.

"But I am not saying that we cannot look at it again in some way. Our experience tells that when we test this (life ban) legally, the courts have not supported life bans," said Coe, a double Olympic gold medal winner in 1500m.

When reminded about IOC President Thomas Bach's comments in 2015 that life bans ultimately involved human rights issues, Coe said, "It is not about human rights only. Thomas (Bach) was partly right, it was partly legal and partly employment. But we need to keep looking at these issues."

Coe paid tribute to the crowd for turning out in large numbers at the ongoing showpiece here.

"It is fantastic, and the global response has been fantastic, not just in United Kingdom but across the world.

People bought tickets for 10 days and Bolt is not appearing in all the 10 days. People know Bolt is a fantastic athlete but he is not the only story in our sport. The crowd response has been amazing."

With more athletes taking part than ever before and sellout crowds turning up, London World Championship is turning out to be the best ever organisationally.